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Red Hat replaces Oracle as OpenJDK 8, OpenJDK 11 steward

Red Hat has taken control of two popular versions of the open source Java implementation, so developers can continue to build apps after Oracle's support ends.

Red Hat has assumed stewardship from Oracle over OpenJDK 8 and OpenJDK 11, which strengthens Red Hat's support for the Java community -- particularly enterprise Java developers.

OpenJDK 8 and OpenJDK 11 are strategic releases of OpenJDK, the free open source implementation of Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE). Java 8 is still the most widely used version of Java, and Java 11 is the first long-term support (LTS) version of Java.

Oracle signaled its intent to get out of the enterprise Java business when it transitioned support and maintenance of Java Platform, Enterprise Edition to the Eclipse Foundation, where it is now known as Jakarta EE.

Oracle increased to a six-month release cadence for new versions of Java in 2017. LTS versions arrive every three years. Oracle ended commercial support for Java 8 and the Oracle JDK 8 implementation of Java SE in January 2018.

Serving Oracle's interests

Red Hat's stewardship of OpenJDK 11 is a win for the Java community, said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, based in Ottawa.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director, Eclipse FoundationMike Milinkovich

"Both Red Hat and [parent company] IBM are going to be interested and willing to support the public and free maintenance of these Java LTS releases for a longer period than Oracle [intended]," he said.

Red Hat's OpenJDK contributions began in 2007 with the IcedTea integration project. The company was a steward of OpenJDK 7, which came out in 2011, and of OpenJDK 6, from 2013 until 2017. The OpenJDK community selected the company's technical lead on Java, Andrew Haley, as project lead for OpenJDK 8 and OpenJDK 11 in February 2019. He has been active on the OpenJDK governing board for seven years.

At the same time, Red Hat's OpenJDK 11 stewardship likely serves Oracle's interests. For starters, this move potentially slows the trend toward new OpenJDK distributions from companies such as Amazon, SAP and Alibaba.

"There are so many other companies jumping on the OpenJDK support bandwagon, which is nice to see, but very few of them really have the expertise to do full-stack support of OpenJDK," said an enterprise Java developer for a systems provider, who asked not to be named. "I feel far better about 8 and 11 being under Red Hat's stewardship than Oracle or almost any of the others. They've done more to keep Java 'honest' than just about anyone else."

Meanwhile, Oracle has little interest in older versions of Java, other than to charge customers for them, and it's happy to let Red Hat fix and maintain OpenJDK forks, said Cameron Purdy, CEO of xqiz.it, a cloud software startup in Lexington, Mass., and former senior vice president of development at Oracle.

"Companies like IBM and Red Hat are basically forced to do this. Otherwise, they cannot provide long-term support for their own products," he said.

Red Hat takes over

Companies like IBM and Red Hat are basically forced to [fix and maintain OpenJDK forks]. Otherwise, they cannot provide long-term support for their own products.
Cameron PurdyCEO, xqiz.it

With its stewardship of OpenJDK 8 and OpenJDK 11, Red Hat will maintain releases and determine what it does or doesn't add. That is important, because others -- including AWS, Azul Systems, AdoptOpenJDK and SAP -- will also base their releases on OpenJDK 11.

Red Hat will also provide bug and security fixes, which is a major benefit for users of a supported OpenJDK environment. Unsupported environments are unlikely to be current on security.

"There will not be any radical changes to OpenJDK 8, which is in maintenance mode, or OpenJDK 11. But Red Hat will ensure long-term support for each," said John Doyle, senior principal product manager at Red Hat, based in Raleigh, N.C.

Red Hat also plans to support and enable more innovation in Java. For instance, the company leads the development of the Shenandoah garbage collector that is in OpenJDK 12.

It's also facilitating the use of OpenJDK on Microsoft Windows, with commercial support for OpenJDK on Windows released in December 2018. Within the next few weeks, Red Hat will release OpenJDK in a Microsoft installer and distribute IcedTea-Web, a free software implementation of Java Web Start and the Java web browser plugin, as part of the Windows OpenJDK distribution.

Beyond Java

Despite Java's continued popularity, some believe the programming language's best days are behind it.

"While still important and definitely not legacy, Java is not one of today's growth technologies," said Torsten Volk, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. "All of these traditional Java vendors should be focusing on pivoting toward today's fast-growing stuff, such as Python, JavaScript and Node.js."

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